I recently returned home to find an unfamiliar package on my doorstep. As I gingerly opened it, I discovered a book.
Enclosed was a carefully written letter from Thomas Kavunedus, a retired teacher from the Lakeland School District, who co-authored the book with Dr. Leon Bock, the district's former superintendent. The book, Struggle for Power, details the 1977 strike in Lakeland, N.Y. The strike was and still is New York's longest teacher strike and the authors were negotiators for the union (Kavunedus) and the district (Bock). Together, they penned this massive work (664 pages), creating a chronology of the steps and missteps to help us understand what led to a strike that produced both great bravery and hardship, and to also enlighten us as to how to avoid similar situations.
We're thankful to the authors for the lessons they are sharing with us and we owe the 400 members of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers, who fought to protect the rights of teachers then and well into the future, a tremendous debt of gratitude.
There are a lot of individuals and moments in labor history to which we owe a great deal of gratitude: leaders like Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman; the UFT strikes; and labor unrest in places like Yonkers and North Syracuse.
But there is also a lot going on today that makes us strong, keeps us strong and makes us proud. Indeed, that puts the union movement, especially ours, at the forefront of attaining the American Dream for ourselves and others less fortunate.
Members like NYSUT Board member Tony McCann and those who traveled to Ohio to work on the victory to restore worker rights certainly come to mind. As do the thousands of members, like so many of you, who showed up at rallies across New York to demonstrate against obscene budget cuts and a property tax cap that will spread havoc and hardship to school districts throughout the state. Each of you not only gave witness to the educational impact of these cuts, but also demonstrated your unwavering support for protecting collective bargaining.
And so much gratitude has to be extended to those members and locals who came to the aid of their sisters and brothers across the state devastated by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee and the torrential rains and subsequent flooding. From donating books and classroom supplies to installing insulation and sheetrock, members came to the aid of members. Donations to NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund have made it possible for us to make grants of up to $500 to more than 130 affected members to date.
And how can I acknowledge and thank those who take the lead in strengthening the voice of the union? I point to the amazing work of the Innovation Initiative districts (and NYSUT staff). They, along with other stakeholders, collaboratively created the Teacher Evaluation and Development system (TED), which sets the bar high for a teacher evaluation process that respects the voice of practitioners and is designed to advance the growth of individual teachers and our profession as a whole. Six NYSUT locals have answered the call of tens of thousands of educators who want teacher growth and development to be the guiding force behind any system designed to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
Each day, NYSUT members make a difference in the lives of the students they teach and those they serve. More than 120 members have shared their story on NYSUT's "It's What We Do" website. Each of these stories makes us proud, not only of our work, but of our union as the vehicle for social justice, professional growth and best practices that positively impact those with whom we interact. These stories illustrate the caring and compassion so many of our members see as just part of what they do.
We all know the months ahead will test our mettle. They will require a level of commitment perhaps never before needed. But, there is also a time to reflect and to be thankful, especially in this season. The examples
I've cited only begin to shine a light on the dedication, skills and good work of so many of our members.
On behalf of all of NYSUT's officers, thanks to each of our members for the work you do and for making us all proud to be NYSUT.
Note: Your comments on this column or any issue you wish to share directly with me are welcomed. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.